I’m at the sporting goods store with my five-year-old son, and we’re sniffing baseball gloves. We each pick out our favorite, slide our hand into the glove, and pop the pocket with our fist. If the fit is good, if we get that perfect sound of a fist hitting leather, then we’ll bring the glove up to our face and sniff. There is nothing like smelling a new glove. It’s earthy and for me nostalgic, bringing back memories of hours upon hours of playing baseball as a kid, playing at school, and in Little League, and in the streets around the neighborhood.
My kid is smiling and laughing out loud. Grabbing glove after glove, punching them, twisting them, smelling them, and even licking a few. Ok, maybe that’s a little much. Let’s not tell Mom about tasting gloves. Let’s get one and go.
A Childhood Tradition
We buy a glove and glove oil and a baseball.
It’s time for the baseball glove ritual.
My father had taken time and shared that first baseball glove experience with me. Just like his father had shared it with him. It was time for me to share it with my son. A baseball glove is beautiful. Someone has lovingly crafted it, and each one is a little different. Each glove is unique in color and fit, and It takes care and attention to maintain a glove. The right glove will last a lifetime. I’d been waiting to share this experience with my son — or daughter if I’d had a girl — my whole life. I love passing on these family traditions.
My son picks out an old tee shirt to use as an oil rag, we grab some twine and unpack the baseball. We sit down on the bed, in his room, and squirt oil into the pockets of our gloves. We work the oil around the mitt, inside and out, until the mitt is saturated and the leather darkened. The scent of oil and leather and laughter fill the room. We finish off his glove with a final rub down using the old tee shirt.
It’s all smiles now. Sitting next to each other. Working our gloves together.
We take the new baseballs and stick them in the center of the pocket of the gloves. Grind it around the pocket a little. Pop, pop, pop the ball in and out of our gloves. Then we sit the ball firmly in the pocket, wrap the fingers of the glove around the ball and tie it all up with the twine. We get off the bed, and I lift the mattress, and my son slides his glove under the mattress into the center of the bed to ensure the glove gets broken in properly.
This process requires a bit of nurturing and thoughtful consideration of how to create that form-fitting experience, “like a glove.” I knew he would wake up in the morning, take his glove out from under the mattress, and it will be, oh so close to ready. Just a few hours of catch to finish the break-in process. Then it’s done. It’s a childhood tradition. A desirable right of passage.
My son jumped up in bed, wiggled his little body around the lump in the mattress, pulled up the covers, and went to sleep. Perfect.
I woke up with my five-year-old son staring at me, his face inches from mine, watching. Waiting. He had his glove and the ball in hand. Grabbing my glove, we went outside into the backyard. The grass was still damp. I patted my glove a few times and held it up. Giving him a good target. He took a step, smiling, and fired the ball about ten feet over my head into the marsh behind our house. He burst out laughing. I climbed the back fence, worked my way through the scrub palmetto, and sawgrass searching for the ball. The ball is a little damp, but I found it, picked it up, and hopped back over the fence. I handed my son the ball, walked back ten paces, and held up my glove. I watched and waited, but he turned and ran into the house.
Ok. Baseball is not his thing. No big deal. We’ll find something else.
I walk in the house, and my son is oiling up the glove. I watch as he rubs it down with our “glove” rag and then wraps it up with the twine, runs to his room and sticks it under the mattress. He curls himself around that lump in the bed and sleeps on that glove for the next several months. He occasionally takes it out, unties it, oils it up, rewraps it, and sticks it back under the bed. He doesn’t care about playing catch, but he loves taking care of that glove.
My son and I began spending our weekends putting on two-person plays. We’d create dozens of characters and act each one out with different voices and mannerisms. We’d improvise the dialogue bouncing crazy thoughts and ideas off of each other. We’d spend hours together. Sometimes my wife would join us. Sometimes as a participant. Sometimes as an audience.
Nowadays it’s Brazilian Ju-Jitsu. We train together. We learn together.
The Lesson is always the same. Don’t worry about the end result. Don’t worry about achieving the goal. Be in the moment. It’s the process that is rewarding. It’s the time spent together.
The glove was never the gift, the gift was the Lesson all along.